Tuesday, February 28, 2006 | The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority will continue considering local military bases as potential homes for a new airport, despite the Secretary of the Navy’s insistence that the military won’t cooperate.

The authority’s planning committee affirmed that during a meeting yesterday morning, despite a failed effort by board member Mary Teresa Sessom to cease studies of the military bases.

As the authority begins discussing an “out-of-the-box” approach that incorporates both Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, it remains unclear just how the authority would vet its final decisions with an uncooperative military. Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter spelled out his opposition in a letter Friday.

“Extensive analyses … leads to the inescapable conclusion that these installations cannot provide the home to a commercial airport or joint-use airfield without undermining military response, security, readiness or safety,” Winter wrote.

Most board members did not appear fazed by Winter’s opposition – the military’s objection has never been a secret – though one of them, Robert Maxwell, said the letter was clear and should be followed.

“We’ve got a direct order from the person at the highest level in our government,” Maxwell said. “I don’t think we should avoid paying attention to that.”

Board member Tony Young objected to that, saying: “I don’t work for the Secretary of the Navy. I serve the people of the city of San Diego. That’s who I work for. I’m not going to be told what to do and how to think by the secretary of the Navy or anybody else.”

While the military will provide data needed for the study, it won’t discuss the merits of such hypothetical scenarios, said Capt. Mike Allen, Navy Region Southwest’s chief of staff.

Board member Paul Nieto lamented the Navy’s stance. The authority, he said, could brainstorm ideas with the military – as an ally, not a threat.

(In the hallway after the meeting, Allen politely told Nieto the letter wasn’t from some guy, but rather the head of the Navy, who speaks for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.)

It isn’t clear where that leaves the authority, which is now studying the military sites in depth. Board member William Lynch said if the authority chooses a military site to put on the November ballot, and it is approved, he hopes the region’s voice would resonate with elected officials, who have not united behind the ballot measure.

In an interview after the meeting, Nieto said he wished the authority would have more support from Congressional leaders. He said the process had been hamstrung by former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham and former San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy. The duo were instrumental in keeping the authority from evaluating military bases before the Pentagon’s most recent round of base closures. But Nieto said he expected Mayor Jerry Sanders to play an important role in establishing dialogue with the military.

But Sessom said the dialogue has been clear and the authority should find non-military options.

“I think the military gave due consideration and said no,” she said. “And not no, but hell no.”

Please contact Rob Davis directly at

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